In 1821 Mexico was separated from the kingdom of Spain and entered upon a turbulent and troubled existence of its own. At that time almost all of the territory comprised in the present American State of Texas was an integral part of the Mexican Republic. It was inhabited largely by Mexicans and other persons of Spanish or mixed Spanish and Indian descent. But along with these there were a large number of immigrants from the United States, some of whom had taken up land under the laws of the Mexican Government, whilst others were hunters, trappers, and adventurers. All these latter were rather disinclined to submit to the laws of the Mexicans, especially when the various changes in the Mexican Government made it at times somewhat problematical what these laws were, and still more of a problem to judge how each fresh incumbent in office would administer the laws. Consequently, the uneasiness grew in volume with each accession of strength in the numbers of the immigrants, and each fresh caprice of the rulers. To add to this uneasy situation the designs of the slaveholders in the United States included an extension of slaveholding territory to the South. Unable to extend the slave belt to the North, and menaced by the continual growth of free states in the West, the slaveholders of the United States were anxious to secure fresh territories which could be erected into slave states whose votes could be counted upon against the pressing danger of the increase of liberationist sentiment in the Congress and Senate. Hence the restless immigrants in Texas received secret encouragement from the United States Government, and having real and genuine grievances of their own their restlessness gradually developed into rebellion.
A Mexican Congress in 1835 adopted a new Constitution of the country, one feature of which was the dissolution of all power in a Congress to meet in Mexico city. This was resented in many parts of the country, and in March 1836, a Texan Congress met at Washington, Texas, and declared Texas to be a free and independent Republic. A provisional Government was organised, and Sam Houston was declared Commander-in-Chief. Hostilities commenced immediately.
Fighting took place at several places, notably at San Antonio de Bexar, where the insurgents after five days battle in the street, compelled the garrison to surrender. On hearing of this disaster to his forces, the Mexican President, Santa Anna, crossed the Rio Grande, the river which forms the boundary line between Texas and Mexico, with an army of 10,000 men, and advanced against the insurgents. In the path of their advance lay an old wooden fort known as the Alamo, into which a Texan officer named Travis threw himself with a garrison of 145 men. The Mexican force laid siege to the place, and Travis sent off the following message for reinforcements:
The enemy have demanded me to surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword. I have answered his summons with a cannon shot. Our flag still floats proudly from the walls. We shall never surrender or retreat, liberty or death!
The little Texan force of one hundred and forty five insurgents held out for ten days against the Mexican army of 10,000 men. Again and again the Mexicans attempted to storm the place, and as often they were beaten off. The wounded were propped up by their comrades and kept on fighting until death, the rushes of the regular soldiery with bayonets were beaten off by the Texans with clubbed rifles or met with the quick deadly work of bowie knives, and when at last the building was taken and the Mexicans were victorious it was found that the loss they had sustained was without a parallel in history. Fifteen hundred Mexicans had been killed or ten for every Texan engaged.
No quarter was given or asked. All the defenders were killed, their bodies collected in a heap and burned.
But the defence of the Alamo had enabled the insurgents elsewhere to organise their resistance and General Samuel
p.468Houston with twelve hundred men was by this time in the field and in a position to conduct a regular campaign. Houston pursued a retreating and waiting policy refusing to be drawn prematurely into a battle, but patiently biding his time and keeping his men together until he had made them into an army.
Eventually on April 19th 1836 the two armies met at Buffalo Bayou and the Mexicans were defeated with great slaughter, their General and six hundred men being taken prisoners.
This ended the campaign, the independence of Texas being shortly afterwards formally acknowledged.
The defence of the Alamo was one of those defeats which are often more valuable to a cause than many loudly trumpeted victories. It gave spirit and bitterness to the Texan forces, and more important still gave time to their comrades elsewhere.Fortunately for their cause also they had in Houston a General who recognised that the act of keeping an insurgent force in the field was in itself so valuable an establishment of the revolutionary position that it gave all the functions and prestige of government. Hence he kept his force in the field without fighting as long as possible, despite the murmurs of his men, and only hazarded an engagement when he considered that his army was made.July 3rd, 1915.